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Episode 115 - Bi-polar Disorder & Suicide - Overcoming Dark Times to Achieve Success Image

03/12/2019 1:48 pm

Life is stressful enough without having to deal with a divorce. For those suffering from mental illness, it can be overwhelming. Over the past few years, we have seen many people suffering from some form of mental illness, but too afraid to get help. For some, they could not handle the stress of divorce and committed suicide. Unfortunately, we have created a stigma around mental illness. This stigma causes many people to fear getting help. They fear loosing their job or their children. In this show, Leh and Todd interview lawyer Eric Lang. Eric Lang is a very successful lawyer, but mental illness almost cost him everything. He discusses his struggle with bi polar disorder and how it ultimately led to his attempted suicide. Fortunately, he overcame this dark time and achieved success. He is proof that you do not have to be silent out of fear of losing something like your career, your children, or your life.

Transcript

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the New Talk 106.7. Here you learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis and, from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Todd Orston:                   Hi.

Leh Meriwether:             Todd, normally I would say I'm excited, but this is a very serious topic.

Todd Orston:                   It's a somber topic. I'm excited that we are talking about it because it's a message that needs to get out, and I think the way we're going to get it out today, with some help, is a powerful way. Hopefully, if there's anyone listening or if anybody listening knows of anyone that needs this kind of help, hopefully, this show will be helpful.

Leh Meriwether:             Yes.

Todd Orston:                   I've said help in many different forms, like 12 times in that sentence.

Leh Meriwether:             That was impressive.

Eric Lang:                         You couldn't help yourself.

Todd Orston:                   I couldn't help myself. There you go. I like it. I'm done.

Leh Meriwether:             In the past couple of years ... We're going to have to bring some levity to this, but in the past couple of years, we have unfortunately dealt with our share of suicides and a lot of mental health issues. In some cases it was our client, in other cases it was an opposing party. But in every case, it was a tragedy, and a tragedy that we can hope to avoid in the future with education and help.

Leh Meriwether:             Now I think the biggest tragedy in our divorce cases are the people, they know they're hurting, but they're afraid to ask for help. Maybe it's a mom or a dad in a contested custody case who's afraid to reach out for help because it's going to be used against them in the divorce. Or maybe it's an executive who's afraid of how reaching out for help will impact his or her career if they seek counseling when they're struggling.

Leh Meriwether:             But thankfully with us today to talk about this very sobering topic is Eric Lang. Before I introduce Eric, I just wanted to share that I first heard his story at a bar meeting and he was sharing his challenges, his struggles with a mental health disorder. I'll let him tell his story in a minute, and he went through a really rough time, but there is a happy ending that I think everyone needs to hear this.

Leh Meriwether:             Eric has been practicing law in the land of Georgia since 1990. His practice has been a mix of litigation and general business counseling, and Mr. Lang's career has spanned 25 states and four countries with great breath. I need great breath to talk about this. He has won seven-figure results for plaintiffs and summary judgments for defendants. He has successfully tried cases that were front-page news, and he's even made law that's discussed in seminars and articles.

Leh Meriwether:             Mr. Lang's peers consistently ask him to speak at continuing legal education seminars and he has been honored by Super Lawyers magazine as a rising star in the legal procession ...

Todd Orston:                   You're going to get it.

Leh Meriwether:             The legal profession.

Todd Orston:                   Don't worry. Don't give up. Do not give up.

Leh Meriwether:             And Super Lawyers. That's what happens when I don't practice-

Todd Orston:                   And it's breadth, there's a D there.

Leh Meriwether:             Breadth. Did I ... Okay. Breath.

Todd Orston:                   You're not breadthing.

Leh Meriwether:             Breath.

Eric Lang:                         Obviously he isn't, that's why he [crosstalk 00:03:35].

Todd Orston:                   That's right.

Leh Meriwether:             I could go on and on about Eric.

Todd Orston:                   Please don't.

Leh Meriwether:             Yes, because I would be ... You will mercilessly torture me.

Todd Orston:                   Oh, you've got to stop.

Leh Meriwether:             I can't talk today.

Todd Orston:                   And now, let's bring Eric on, who can hopefully speak.

Leh Meriwether:             Hey Eric, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Eric Lang:                         Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Leh Meriwether:             Before I forget, if people want to read more about you and all your escapades and everything you've done, they can visit you at langlegal.com, is that right?

Eric Lang:                         Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             And also, you have a blog that's georgialegalupdate.wordpress.com?

Eric Lang:                         Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay, great.

Leh Meriwether:             All right, Eric, I know that you've come on the show with a wealth of information, and we're going to get into all that because I'm really looking forward to hearing this part of the story again. We had a short version at the bar luncheon, so I'm looking forward to the longer version. But before we get started, I wanted you to share your story, because I think your story is so compelling, because so many people are afraid to go get help because of the long-term impact it might have, but your story is one that to me, when I heard it, it was very motivational when I heard it.

Eric Lang:                         Thank you. I think the best way to approach an issue like a mental health issue is to not say, "What was the day you woke up and realized you had a mental health issue?" but "How did you wake up and realize you had a mental health issue? What got you there, and what got you out of it?" My particular issue is bipolar disorder, as I've learned, and it's got some ups where you think you're invulnerable and it's got some downs where you can't move out of the quicksand one way or the other. These obviously are not clinical terms, but you get the idea.

Eric Lang:                         We believe, [inaudible 00:05:21] humans believe, that everything that's going inside our head is correct. And if you get praise for what you do, if you get praise for how you do things, then you have no reason to suspect that something is wrong. If you walk around with a pebble in your shoe your entire life and you always think your right foot hurts because there's a pebble in there, and you think that everyone else has a pebble in their shoe, you have no reason to doubt it. It's the same thing in your brain.

Eric Lang:                         So if you go your whole life, long periods of time not doing anything, followed by short bursts of inspiration and success, for which you're given As in elementary school and As in middle school and honors in high school and college and so on and so forth, then no one has told you you're doing poorly or you're not doing things correctly, because the little piece of paper that you get at the end of things says you're thinking right, your head is right. You have no reason to wonder.

Eric Lang:                         Then you get into a profession like law, and I'm a litigator, I'm a trial lawyer, so everything is either a win or a loss. If you win, you did well. Doesn't really matter how you got to the win. If you spent the 28 days looking at the ceiling and the 36 sleepless hours writing the brief and you beat the guy who spent four hours a day writing the brief, well, that person might've done it the right way, but you won, so you did it the right way. Never do you think that what you are doing might be wrong, because all you hear is positive feedback. No one questions the process because the outcomes are so positive. That's a young man's game. You can only so long get away with using your highs to counteract your lows. You start taking greater risk, you start doing less intelligent things, you start digging holes that are deeper, and all of the sudden, you start doing things that are just stupid.

Eric Lang:                         I woke up one day and decided that it made sense, for example, to access trust account funds to make payroll because I knew a couple weeks later I was going to win a verdict and pay back the trust funds. That's not allowed, okay? But I convinced myself that because I was that powerful, that I could do it. All of this came crashing down eventually one day when I decided, again, because this was a great idea, that if I got a whole bunch of pills and a glass of vodka, and put the two of them together, I can die and there'd be insurance money and everyone would be happy. It is lucky that I am a much better lawyer than I am a pharmacist.

Todd Orston:                   Apparently, that's a ...

Eric Lang:                         You know, let me interrupt you. Before you were talking about this subject as somber, and certainly it's not ha-ha funny, but the more negative energy we attach to a subject, the greater the stigma is.

Leh Meriwether:             Mm, good point.

Eric Lang:                         Some people say I'm a little bit too flip, but I find that if I attach reality as opposed to negative energy to these subjects, people will find them more approachable. And so when I make a joke like "better lawyer than pharmacist," that's not me being flip, that's me just talking about something as if it just happened. I'm not changing the way I talk just because this issue has some negativity attached to it.

Eric Lang:                         Back to the narrative. So the next morning, I wake up in the hospital and ... the special hospital, as I like to call it, and the therapist says to me, she's going down her checklist, "Well, was this the first time you've ever considered killing yourself?" My response to her instantaneously was, "Well, other than the normal thoughts that everyone has about it every day?" And the look on her face is what told me, okay, I'd never thought that that was something that was wrong, because-

Todd Orston:                   You thought everybody had that pebble in their shoe.

Eric Lang:                         Exactly, and I had no reason to question the way I was thinking, because I was good at thinking and that's sort of the end of the how far down can you go since then, and we'll explore this more. I took two years off from the practice of law, and if you were in the room, you'd see me putting air quotes around took two years off. The bar encouraged me to take those two years off, but that's actually a good thing. They stabilized the medication, you go into therapy, you get healthy, and I've worked myself back to where I'm now practicing law full time on sophisticated litigation like I was five or six years ago. So that's sort of the beginning to the end of the story.

Eric Lang:                         In terms of speaking, you saw me because a judge had seen me speak and I was speaking to that judge because another judge had seen me speak. This is probably approaching 20, 25 times that I've given this talk. I feel it's part of giving back, to sort of de-stigmatize the discussion.

Leh Meriwether:             I love that, because when you de-stigmatize it, more people are willing to talk about it. I don't know why, for the longest time, and I'm hoping this is starting to change, but we would ... your brain is an organ just like a heart is in your body. But for some reason, when someone has something wrong with their brain, we treat them differently than if there was something wrong with their heart, and we can treat both of them with medication. But yet, for some reason, somewhere along the way, we had changed that.

Leh Meriwether:             So that's part of the reason why I wanted you to come on the show, so maybe we could start that, and by the way, thanks for giving some permission to be a little lighthearted about it. Not that we don't take this seriously, because if we didn't, we wouldn't have you on the show. But I really appreciate that, and I think that is such an amazing insight right there, to let's bring a little levity to this so we can talk about it. Hey, and up next, we're going to try to define mental illness and talk about some possible warning signs.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the New Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Leh Meriwether:             Well, today we're talking about a very serious subject. We're talking about mental illness, and we started the show talking about some suicide issues. It's on the rise, we've seen it in cases unfortunately, and Eric Lang has come to us because I had an opportunity to hear his story at a bar luncheon one day, and so in the last segment, he just shared his story about some struggles that he'd gone through, and now he's actually traveling around the United States, giving-

Eric Lang:                         Just this state so far.

Leh Meriwether:             Just this state, okay. Well, I'm going to be optimistic that you're going to start-

Eric Lang:                         Pass my name around.

Leh Meriwether:             I will. I will.

Todd Orston:                   So you could just say you're traveling all over one of the United States.

Leh Meriwether:             There you go.

Eric Lang:                         Well, I do travel around the United States. I only speak on this subject in this one, so.

Todd Orston:                   Oh, okay. All right.

Leh Meriwether:             Oh, okay. All right. So yes, and I'm hoping as your story gets out and the information you bring with your story, more and more people are going to realize that I don't have to allow the concept of mental illness to be a stigma so that I can get help.

Todd Orston:                   What's so interesting to me is, as family lawyers, we deal with mental illness in cases all the time, and it's our clients. Sometimes we see them and we try to advise them and give them the help they need and push them in the direction they need to be pushed in to get some help, because we see them struggling, we see them basically needing, desperately needing some help. But you're approaching it from a much different angle, which is you were at attorney. You were out there practicing, struggling with some of the same exact things so many other people that are our clients deal with, and it's not that you're different, it's just the optics of it are interesting. Right? Because we're always used to it being our clients, but this can afflict or this can affect so many people and it doesn't matter if you're the attorney or you're the client. Mental illness, obviously, it's a serious issue, and it's all about getting help.

Eric Lang:                         And obviously, serious mental illness impacts a certain percentage of the population. When you talk about the practice of law, our numbers are higher. There are a couple of ways of slicing it, but no matter how you get there, we either have the highest or second highest incidence of serious mental illness among professions. That's different than jobs. Coal miners have generally higher than anyone. And in terms of suicide, our rates are higher. Higher even more for female lawyers than male lawyers.

Leh Meriwether:             Interesting.

Eric Lang:                         There's no data on ... In the presentation I give to lawyers, I ask the room, "I want you to agree with one or two of these statements. Statement one, do you have to be crazy to want to be a lawyer, and then statement two is, does making a lawyer drive you crazy?" And the answer's a little of both.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, and some state bars have programs to try and identify these types of issues and offer attorneys help. This would be just a statement to any attorneys who might be listening, that there are resources, even through the state bar. Some state bars are better than others, okay, and you may know that far better than I do, but some are better than others at giving people the help that they need to try and deal with these issues, so it just goes back to what you were saying earlier and that I think will be a recurring message: The help is out there, you just need to go out there and find it and get that help.

Leh Meriwether:             And I think I read an article that you wrote that said that the third highest cause of death of lawyers is suicide.

Eric Lang:                         Yes.

Leh Meriwether:             That's incredible.

Eric Lang:                         It is a shocking statistic. When you look at the study, just to make it a little less extreme, they take any heart-related illness, that's number one, heart illness; cancer, as opposed to being broken down by different types, is number two. When you've taken so many subgroups out and put them in two big groups, suicide becomes third. If you started breaking it out one by one, while it might not be as high, it's still an astoundingly large number when compared to other professions or society as a whole.

Todd Orston:                   Well, I agree with you, because I would think car accidents or slip and fall, just accidental injury, those types of things I would think would be more prevalent than suicide, so to hear that the statistics and the numbers are that it's third on that list, that really is scary.

Leh Meriwether:             So let's try to define, at least for the purpose of this show, mental illness, and I know that you've put some material together. How do we define it from a medical profession, how does the law define it? I know you have some practical framework to put that in, as well.

Eric Lang:                         I'm not going to go about citing statutes or sections of manuals, but everyone who defines it starts with, the person at issue is behaving differently, and then they go from they are behaving differently to why are they behaving differently, and then they add on an element of is that within societal norms. So the Georgia definition is probably the narrowest. It doesn't necessarily talk about things that are out of the ordinary. If you're having a bad day, technically, if you looked at the Georgia statute, you might conclude that you have mental illness. The diagnostical statistical manual definition quadruples the number of words in the Georgia definition, basically comes to the same conclusion, but adds the concept, two other concepts. One, intentionally being a jerk doesn't make you mentally ill, and two, if you're having a normal reaction to stimulus, that doesn't make you mentally ill.

Eric Lang:                         So when I talk about this, I talk about this two-part test of intentional behavior and normal reaction. If a man runs into a room screaming in three different films. First person runs in screaming, second person runs in screaming, third person runs in screaming, and I can tell you that one of them is mentally ill and the other two aren't. You don't know yet, just by looking at the person screaming. First guy, it turns out, just saw his family get run over by a car. Is he screaming? Yeah. Is that normal? Yeah, it's a normal reaction to what he's seeing, but it's involuntary. So it's involuntary, but it's normal.

Eric Lang:                         Second guy walks into the room, also screaming. Why is he screaming? Because he wants to convince you that his family just got run over by a car, so you'll give him money. Okay? He's a con man, okay? Is his action intentional? Yes, but is it a reaction to a stimulus? No. The third guy is walking into the room screaming because it's Tuesday. That person has, perhaps, some mental health issues, and it's only when you get behind what's going on inside someone's head. There's no test, there's no blood test, there's no skin test, there's no multifactor checklist. It's one of those you know it when you see it kind of things.

Leh Meriwether:             And that's ... I love the way you just put that. So that way if someone ... Later, I do want us to talk about what's the best way for us to try to help someone, because I'm sure there are some ways that are good and some ways that are absolutely horrible to get people, to convince them or to try to help them, number one, and number two, convince them to maybe go see a professional. We'll get into that later, but I know that it affects more than just ... Well, most judges are also lawyers, but there's been a couple suicides recently for judges.

Eric Lang:                         A couple of judge suicides. I don't keep a mental record of dates and names, other than collecting headlines for the purpose of a presentation. Every time I give the presentation, I'll do a news search in Georgia for judge or attorney and suicide, and I generally always have five or six headlines to put up on that particular slide going back a couple of years.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow.

Eric Lang:                         So it's just, it's there.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah. A lot of people think, "Oh, if you're a judge or you're a lawyer, you've made it. Why would you want to commit suicide?" A lot of people struggle with that, and it comes back to what you were saying, that there's something ... there's a pebble in their shoe and they think that someone else has that pebble, as well, or everybody else has the same pebble.

Todd Orston:                   Well, and don't we deal with that ... or isn't that how we see so many people, whether they are attorneys or doctors or kids or whatever, and to me, it's that something's going on and it could just be the mental illness or they just can't see that light at the end of the tunnel. Where what I've seen so often in our practice is sometimes it's hard for people, and they end up getting very depressed. They can't see that light at the end of the tunnel. We have that superpower only because we've been through a thousand divorces, and we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You're on day one, and it may be a 400, 300, 200-day process. You can't see that light at the end of the tunnel, but going to what you were talking about, sometimes it's hard for people to see it and it's hard for you to even communicate that to those people, which is again, why they need to talk to somebody that can really help work them through it.

Eric Lang:                         The other thing to consider, talk about a little bit more. So far, we've been focusing on suicide, which is all well. But for every suicide there are 24 unsuccessfuls, and for that group, there are another 250 people out there with serious mental health issues that haven't even tried. And so we can talk and mourn the loss of the one, but we've got to focus on the other 300 step by step.

Todd Orston:                   That's a great point.

Leh Meriwether:             Good point.

Todd Orston:                   Glad you're here.

Eric Lang:                         Thank you. I get free water.

Todd Orston:                   No, no, no. Actually, you'll be billed for that at the end.

Leh Meriwether:             All right, so up next, we're going to talk about some tools and rules of how to recognize mental health issues so maybe that someone listening can get the help they need or you may know someone that based on what you heard from Eric, that they may be suffering from some mental illness, so hopefully we can learn something to urge those people to get professional help before they take some drastic measures.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the New Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Leh Meriwether:             Well, today we are talking about mental health issues. We've been talking the last couple segments a lot about suicide, and we have Eric Lang with us, an attorney who has struggled or actually struggled through his mental health illness, and he is living proof that you can get help and come out the other side better than where you were before in many respects. He's been sharing with us what he's learned about this and how there are so many other people that sometimes we focus on those few people that actually kill themselves, forgetting that there's a lot of other people out there that are still struggling with this and we need to reach out and try to help them.

Leh Meriwether:             I'd like to get into what are some things that we can look for if we're trying to help someone? I know there's lots, but I'll let you break it down.

Eric Lang:                         I'm going to mess you up by actually saying something else, and then I'll get to that.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay.

Todd Orston:                   Don't mess him up. He'll never get back.

Eric Lang:                         The first thing you need to do is not let people with bipolar issues change the subject on you. No. Sorry. No, you talked about struggle, struggled past tense, and you said I'm someone who has struggled with, and I want to make it clear that this isn't a cut on your arm that you get stitched of and move on from. Yeah, I had to have some deeper work done after a suicide attempt. There's some inpatient, there's some really long outpatient stuff, but part of that is the doctors spend a good amount of time figuring out what chemicals to treat you with. Everyone's brain's wired just a little bit differently, and it takes a while. It took them about a year to get the mix right for me, and then that's not the end of your struggle, either. If you think that you have cured yourself by taking a pill or a group of them, no. You've got to stay in therapy and you've got to remain aware of what your danger points are and what to avoid. If you think you've solved it just by three prescriptions and you see a guy 15 minutes every three months to keep them legal, you're not done.

Todd Orston:                   It's like addiction.

Eric Lang:                         Yes.

Todd Orston:                   It's a life ... I've met people, we all have, who have dealt with addiction issues, and usually, the people who really are on the right path, they'll look at you and they'll ... I once met someone and it was like, "Hi, my name is Mac, I'm an addict." They embraced it, but it's a lifelong fight.

Eric Lang:                         It's more to me like diabetes or asthma, where it just, you've got to take meds, you've got to know what the danger signs are. Addiction's just scarier. I know too many people ... For analysis purposes, they take lawyers with addiction problems and lawyers with mental health problems and they have us to to group therapy together, and the things I've seen on the addiction side are so dangerous and so insidious, that it's not my thing, but it's just so, so much more.

Todd Orston:                   And all I was-

Eric Lang:                         Yeah, [crosstalk 00:26:00] yeah.

Todd Orston:                   The only thing I was saying was it's a lifelong-

Eric Lang:                         It's just ongoing, yeah.

Leh Meriwether:             Struggle.

Todd Orston:                   ... battle.

Eric Lang:                         Yeah.

Leh Meriwether:             Thanks for clarifying that. Because we have experience in our cases where somebody will, they will realize that maybe they're suffering from some form of depression or bipolar disorder, they get the mixture right and they start taking it and they feel good, "I don't need to take this anymore. I feel great," and then they come off of it and then boom, there's this huge ... they're back into where they were before.

Todd Orston:                   Or the meds need to be changed. They stop being as effective as they were when you first start using them. They could be great but then six months later, a year later, if you've stopped going to the doctor but you're still taking certain meds, they may not be working the way they need to work.

Eric Lang:                         They do work, I will say, and it's not like taking a pill that changes the way you feel instantaneously. You're not taking an upper, you're not taking a downer. If I gave you a lithium to take, it would not change your life in any way, shape, or form today except you'd have a sour taste in your mouth. After two or three weeks, if you take it regularly and build it up and build it up, certain chemical changes will happen inside of you, but it's not a pill that you take to feel good, and that's why it requires a commitment.

Eric Lang:                         But your question was, what would be helpful? What can you look for to be helpful to your friends and your loved ones? And if you typed in "list of factors to look for," you'd get this clinical list which is correct, but in my view, not necessarily useful. Is the person in a depressed mood? Do people walk around saying, "Hi, I'm in a depressed mood"? Is the person having suicide thoughts? Is the person taking personal ... The lists are all true statements, but not very useful to the layperson.

Eric Lang:                         The Montana Bar came up with a really good list for lawyers, and when you look at them, you're like, "Yeah." Does this lawyer ... Has he or she stopped returning phone calls? Has there been a change in the quality of written product? Are there canceled meetings? Are there an increased amount of extensions being sought? All these factors that would run at the same time as a depression issue, and if you use those factors, you can notice these things. Judges who see lawyers repeatedly have the ability to do it one way. As we see our colleagues, we could do it another way.

Eric Lang:                         And just because the factors that we're talking about here today are practice of law factors, that doesn't mean with a little creativity you couldn't apply this list to accountants or doctors or schoolteachers or whatever. How many ... I'll show my age, how many times is that teaching showing filmstrips this week? You know?

Leh Meriwether:             Well, you can do that with an employee, anybody, a coworker, they're not showing up to work, they start showing up late, they're, "Oh, I'll get this project to you tomorrow," and you get it two weeks later, and you have to bug them every day to get it. You can apply that to a spouse, as well, like, "Oh, I'll pay the bill tomorrow," because I think this has come up in some of our cases. They'll be like, "I'll pay the bill tomorrow," and they don't pay it, they don't pay it, the next thing, the mortgage is going into foreclosure.

Todd Orston:                   Well, I also like that it's hitting it from a different angle, because there are attorneys that I work with or I have cases against those attorneys, but I don't go to the barbecue with them and I don't see them on a daily basis in a social setting, so some of the other list that you were referring to, that's great, perhaps, for family members and people that are living in the same home or see them regularly, but this other list by the Montana Bar is great because it's allowing more people than just the inner circle to be on the lookout for warning signs.

Eric Lang:                         Absolutely. One thing to consider in that regard also, and this is more particular toward attorneys or other high-achieving professions, we are very good at putting on a mask. We can put on a good show no matter how we're feeling inside because that's what we're trained to do. I'll personalize it. Todd, you met me within months of my suicide attempt, not knowing any of the background in a situation where we were both volunteering to help over-privileged kids.

Todd Orston:                   It was a very sad situation.

Eric Lang:                         Sad, sad situation at this private school in Buckhead where these kids couldn't get more than seven lawyers to help them out for mock trial preparation.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, that's right. I cry myself to sleep every night.

Eric Lang:                         But you met me in that situation, and I would think that unless you were told that there was something else going on, you wouldn't have known that I was just on the other side of what amounts to a nervous breakdown.

Todd Orston:                   There was nothing ... Since you bring it up, your behavior and the way you interacted with me, with other adults, and with the kids, there were no, in my mind, there were no warning signs, there were no issues that I could see. Because I couldn't see behind the curtains, everything looked, for lack of a better way of putting it, normal.

Eric Lang:                         Yeah. Did you ever find out who slashed the tires on your car?

Todd Orston:                   I didn't, and ...

Eric Lang:                         It was Peter.

Todd Orston:                   Well, yeah. I was ... We'll deal with that after we go to a break.

Leh Meriwether:             So is there anything else that we could be doing to help identify these problems?

Eric Lang:                         Just honestly paying attention to change. If you pay attention to change, then you'll be able to see if there's an issue. The harder question is not do you notice a change, because you're going to notice changes. It's how do you say to someone, "Hey, I think you might have a problem"? Step one, don't say, "Hey, I think you might have a problem," because you're going to get pushback. The person's going to be saying, "Hey, everything in my life is wonderful. Everything's' on track. Why do you think there's an issue? I don't want to listen to you anymore."

Eric Lang:                         If you're in a group, if you're in an office and there are 30 of you and you're all worried about Bob over here, maybe talk to a couple of other people about Bob. The concept of an intervention is not un-useful in a situation like this, or if Bob, who I'm using as the example here, is an analytical sort, "Hey, Bob, we're all thinking about these 10 things. Are any of these things happening in your life right now?" and get Bob to self-realize.

Leh Meriwether:             Ah. Okay.

Todd Orston:                   Well, I agree with you and it's a difficult conversation, but in the context of what this show is about and the consequences of not stepping forward and having the difficult conversation, it's a conversation that you have to have.

Eric Lang:                         Oh, absolutely.

Leh Meriwether:             So you think that coming together in numbers is better than one-on-one?

Eric Lang:                         I don't like to put a rule out there on something like this.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay.

Eric Lang:                         I think it depends on who's talking, who's listening, who else is in the room. There are too many personal variables to ... I think they're all tools, and it would depend on the person.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay. Well, up next, we're going to talk about some of the things that you should look for in yourself, because awareness is an important tool, and talk a little bit more about how do we confront someone that we're worried about.

Leh Meriwether:             Todd, while we're on a break, let's take a moment to speak just with our podcast listeners.

Todd Orston:                   Great idea, Leh. First, thank you for listening. If you're a client of ours, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. It really helps us help you.

Leh Meriwether:             And I wanted to thank those that recently took a moment to review our podcast. We really appreciate it. If you feel like you're gaining a value from this show, please take a moment to post a review. The reviews help others find the show, which allows us to help even more people.

Todd Orston:                   And if you're not sure how to post a review, our webmaster's put together a simple explanation on our webpage. You can find it at mtlawoffice.com/reviewit. That's M as in Mary, T as in Tom, law office dot com slash review it.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on the New Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Leh Meriwether:             Well today, we've been talking about a very serious subject. I am so thankful that Eric Lang has come on the show to talk about mental illness and what we can do to basically lift the stigma surrounding it so that more people can get help and we have less suicide attempts and less suicides surrounding this. Eric, I am so happy you're here. When we left off, we were talking about how do you approach someone, and you very smartly said, "I don't want to set any rules on it," but can you give us some ideas, just give us some thoughts on how we could approach someone that we're concerned, like we've seen changes in them, they're not acting what we might consider themselves, or they came screaming in the room and it was just Tuesday.

Eric Lang:                         A lot of it is going to depend on who you are to them.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay.

Eric Lang:                         That guy that you've been friends with since ninth grade who you know like a brother, the way you're going to approach him is by definition going to be different than the employee you've had for three years who you see maybe five to 10 hours a week. Your ability to approach your buddy is very direct, sit down, "Man, I love you and I care about you and A, B, C, and D." Your employee, I'm not an employment lawyer, but I would guess that you'd want two people in the room when talking with an employee about that personal an issue, and you're going to be a little bit more hands off. "Hey, here are some objective things that we've noticed. We'd like you to consider getting some care. Here are some places to call." Or, if you have a third party friend, if you're concerned about your employee and you know that someone else who's friendly with them is also concerned, get with that person. What doesn't work, walking into someone's office saying, "I think you're crazy. Go see a shrink."

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, Leh. So stop doing that to me.

Eric Lang:                         There are a couple of other ways of going about doing it, and now I'm talking about lawyers in particular. The Georgia Bar has a lawyer assistance program. All the information's on the bar website. You, for example, can call the lawyer assistance program and say anonymously, "I'm concerned about Bob. Can you give Bob a call and say, 'Hey, do you have anything going on? Because a couple of people have called us and said you might have something going on.'" And that's the kind of ... Bob might not want to tell you, but Bob will tell the empty chair over there without worrying about the stigma. LAP is confidential, it is right now as a matter of fact and very soon as a matter of law, completely disconnected from discipline. In other words, you can walk in and say, "I'm doing bad things," and they are not allowed to tell the folks over in discipline, and it's something the bar has that's out there. You get, and I'm oversimplifying, six free counseling sessions a year within certain parameters and rules and so on and so forth, and they're there for you.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow.

Eric Lang:                         They're underutilized. Standard utilization rates of a professional assistance program sit at around 7% of the pool who utilize the program. In Georgia, 1% is utilizing the program.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow. 1%.

Eric Lang:                         Now, there's always another side to that number. Utilizing a free assistance program usually goes hand in hand with someone who needs a free assistance program. Many lawyers do have relationships with therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, clergy, and those aren't counted toward that number, obviously.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay. All right, well, let's talk about what do you look for in yourself? Because I imagine awareness is an important tool. We talked in the last segment how you're constantly, you know what to look for because this is an ongoing struggle. It's not something you just had surgery for a few years ago and you're A-okay. It's something you're constantly working through. What is it ... Are there some tools or some tips or what do we need to be looking for in ourselves?

Eric Lang:                         So let's go pre and post, I'll use the word knowledge or incident. Post-incident, where something bad has happened and you're getting care, you're going to have a professional working with you on particular specific things that you need to look for in yourself, and that's going to be different from person to person to person.

Eric Lang:                         But if you're worrying what should I [inaudible 00:39:18], things that I look back and say, "Wow. If only I'd have noticed that," are you getting passed over for certain things that you should have been chosen for? Are you being excluded from certain groups? Do you find that your social calendar is less filled? Things like that matter. Are your client numbers going down? Or on the other hand, do you find that you're working until midnight every day to get things done because you have to? Anything that shows a change one way or the other. One might not matter, everyone has a busy week. But if you have six busy weeks in a row and you're not picked for Little League coach and you can't get that board seat and ... that would cause you to ask yourself, "What is it about me that is causing people around me to treat me differently?"

Todd Orston:                   But it's so different. The analogy I use is that, and I hate the analogy, but that frog that you put into cold water but then you heat it up and it doesn't even realize that the water is heating up. Sometimes it's cumulative. Sometimes it happens over a long period of time. In other words, you might see that you are losing some customers, but maybe you think it's cyclical. Or you're working too hard or you're getting passed over or people aren't socializing with you, and it's a very gradual kind of thing. It's not like all of the sudden, one day you're acting so dramatically different that people start to treat you differently, and so I have to assume, sometimes it's difficult to even know that there's a problem, let alone get to a point where you are ignoring the problem and pretending like there's not one.

Eric Lang:                         I think that's absolutely true, and self-awareness, although the ultimate cure, is so hard to get at and it's oftentimes too late, and then you mix it in with hey, part of what is mental health versus mental illness is there are things that are normal. This weekend, for example, on Saturday, after sleeping late, I took a three-hour nap in the afternoon. Okay? Wow. Does that mean I'm depressed? Actually, as it turned out, it meant I was tired. I went to bed at eight o'clock and woke up ... Sometimes things that equal a mental health signal are just normal. "I'm sad. Why? My puppy died." You've got to break out what's normal from what's not, and then come to some sort of understanding with yourself as to when you're going to be concerned. That's why I like asthma as I ... I don't like asthma, but that's why I like asthma as a metaphor here. My lungs are feeling tight. There's a field of hay. Should I play football in the field of hay? You know, sorts of things that you can stay aware of.

Leh Meriwether:             I think what you just said was, you asked questions. I'm tired. Why am I tired? You know what, I stayed up late last night. We went to the movies and had fun with friends and I tossed and turned all night. So it's okay to take a nap. Or ... Asking those questions and I've been ... I didn't get picked to be the Little League softball coach. The group I was hanging out with, they had a couple meetings and didn't even tell me about them. There must be something going on that I'm missing, so I would guess that a helpful thing would be to possibly talk to them directly, "Hey, have I done anything to offend you?" Or possibly go into counseling. You may not know what's wrong, you just know that something's going on. Because I think a lot of people I've talked to, that you would meet, they actually don't have a mental illness but they get these situational depression, a couple bad things happen, they can't get out of it, and I've talked to them, they've said counseling is a wonderful thing. It helps them walk through it.

Eric Lang:                         Absolutely. If you're talking to the right person. That doesn't mean you've got a mental illness issue. Sometimes life is hard, and just because you're having a hard time when life is hard doesn't mean you have a mental illness issue.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah. I can't believe we've almost out of show again.

Todd Orston:                   I blame you.

Leh Meriwether:             I talk too much.

Eric Lang:                         I'll tell you a quick story.

Leh Meriwether:             Okay.

Eric Lang:                         There's a guy driving down the road. Tire goes flat. Takes the tire off, the nuts fall off into a ditch on the side of the road. He starts screaming. Guy in building says, "Hey, what are you screaming at?" Our guy on the road looks at the building and sees that it's a mental hospital, so he ignores the guy screaming, screaming, screaming, screaming, "Hey you down there with the car! You down there with the car!" Finally, he realizes he's not going to go anywhere anyway, so he says to the guy in the building, "What?" The guy in the building says, "Here. Take one nut off of each of the other three tires and you put your fourth tire back on, you go up and buy some new nuts." Our guy nods and says, "Wow. Hey, you're able to figure that out and I'm not. How come you're in there and I'm out here?" Our guy on the inside says, "Well, I'm here because I'm crazy, not because I'm stupid." There's a difference between intellect and sanity, and you can't let your feeling that you're so smart and you can fix everything delude you into believing you're focused on your mental health, as well.

Leh Meriwether:             Wow. Eric, we're almost out of time, but real quick, how can people find you again?

Eric Lang:                         Www.langlegal.com is probably the quickest way.

Leh Meriwether:             Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and especially that last story, I love it. And everyone, if you're listening to this and you want to listen to it again, you can find us in most podcast directories. Just check us out, and if you're struggling with something, get some help. Don't be afraid. Thanks so much for listening.

Speaker 4:                        This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.

 

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